'Geotag' Your Digital Pictures

Your digital camera can keep track of your travels for you.

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Too many travelers return from a long vacation, flip through their photos, and wonder if that big cathedral is Bradford in West Yorkshire or Ripon in North Yorkshire. Now, digital photos can answer the question with a bit of added information—the precise latitude and longitude where each was taken.

Putting location info on pictures is called "geotagging." Once location tags are added, photo-sharing sites like Flickr, Smugmug, or Picasa can trace a camera's route across a map. It lends a whole new perspective to that big trip.

Many smart phones, including Apple's iPhone 3G and some BlackBerrys, can already geotag their photos. For better pictures from dedicated cameras, it can take a bit of effort to get the location data into that photo file. Some snapshooters carry a GPS device that tracks their travels. They later match where they were at different times to when the photos were taken and manually type the latitude/longitude data into the photo's file.

New devices are arriving that can ease the process. A memory card from a camera can be transferred to the ATP Photo Finder ($100), where the gadget's software uses time stamps to automatically match photos with locale.

Perhaps the easiest is the Eye-Fi Explore ($130). The 2-gigabyte memory card not only stores hundreds of photos but also stamps each with location data. The card isn't always accurate and is mostly limited to metro areas because it depends on a database of wireless Internet access points instead of using the GPS satellites. But it's still the closest thing to having a GPS receiver built into a camera, a feature that is just starting to arrive in high-end models.

Camera makers like Nikon, Canon, and Pentax are making geotagging a priority for future models. They're looking to add features to encourage buyers to upgrade their digital cameras. And they know that all shutterbugs have trouble remembering who or what is in a photo, much less where it was taken.